Elderly Orthodox priest heckles Pope Francis on visit to Greece

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A Greek Orthodox priest heckled Pope Francis during his visit to Athens on Saturday, shouting: “Pope, you are a heretic! before being taken away by the police. The elderly priest fell to the ground when the police grabbed him, but he did not appear injured.

Reuters reports that the priest, who was dressed in black ecclesiastical clothes and a silver pectoral cross, shouted loud enough for the Pope to hear him. According to The Associated Press, François “seemed not to notice it”.

“The Pope is unacceptable in Greece! He should repent! the priest told reporters after being removed from the scene. The Roman pontiff proceeded to a meeting with Ieronymos, the Greek Orthodox bishop of Athens, who welcomed Francis with “honor and fraternity”. Roman Catholics make up just three percent of Greece’s population, according to the National Catholic journalist. Greek Orthodox Christians make up over 97 percent.

The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the many autocephalous (self-governing) national churches that constitute the greater communion known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism separated in 1054 due to controversies over the language of the Nicene symbol and the role of the papacy. Tensions increased further in 1204, when the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, then a stronghold of Orthodoxy, and installed a Flemish Catholic as emperor.

Some Orthodox Christians have a predominantly positive view of Roman Catholicism and continue to hope that the schism could one day be mended.

For others, ecumenism is a dirty word. When, in 1965, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I lifted the mutual excommunications that had lasted for over 900 years, another Orthodox bishop accused Athenagoras of falling into heresy and claimed that the Orthodox monks alive in the monasteries of Mount Athos had ceased mentioning Athenagoras in their daily prayers.

Pope Francis plans to return to the Vatican on Monday.

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